Thursday, February 28, 2008

Take Me As I Am

Take Me As I Am: Mary, MJB, or Nigga?

BY Michael Partis

Mary on her relationship with Oprah

“’Oprah was like, ‘I didn’t care for you, but it was when I got to know you that I realized who you were.’ Though Oprah is now a friend, Mary is not surprised at her opinion. ‘I understand somebody like her wouldn’t even feel me at all.’ Mary says. I’m a nigga, you know what I’m sayin? So when she said that to me, I was like, ‘Thank you for that honesty.’”

Mary J. Blige
No Shame
VIBE February 2008

Mary J. Blige has always been known for her sincerity. Through her lyrics, words, and voice, she has made songs, interviews, and powerful vocal performances convey the Mary J. Blige Experience; an experience that has taken listeners and observers through a odyssey of pain, joy, tears, Real Love, life, No More Drama, Yonkers, hip-hop soul, ghetto fabulous, happiness, and everything else that makes her Mary. It is a life no one could fake, and has a part everyone within the Hip-Hop nation could relate to. That is why for over the past fifteen years, Mary has and continues to serve as a symbol of the Black female experience.

Mary’s symbol status is indicative of the consciousness of our post-Civil Rights and post-crack era generation. The socio-economical problems of our inner-cities were communicated through the medium of Hip-Hop music. It was a medium that elders, like C. Dolores Tucker and Calvin Butts, did not understand. The elders and the critics knew that the destructive violence expressed in Black-on-Black crime, or derogatory treatment of women and blatant sexism was wrong. But they didn’t understand why there were “Niggas With Attitudes;” or why they lived a “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E;” or why “cash ruled everything around me.” They did not know why it was on the young people’s minds, and they did not know why they had to communicate it with rage, anger, pain, and vulgarity.

So it only makes sense that the greatest symbol of Black upward mobility and financial success over the past twenty-five didn’t understand Mary J. Blige. It’s only logical that even though they shared the same condition of being a successful Black woman in American society, Oprah Winfrey just didn’t “care” for MJB.

But what do a whole generation of young people of color who were not recognized by their elders, not respected by their elders, and not “cared” for by their elders see themselves as???”

They see themselves as “niggas”. And it is within this context that the word “nigga” has developed over the past twenty-five years.

A generation of young people (with African Diasporic lineage) that were marginalized and neglected developed their own voices and conveyed their own lived experience through Hip-Hop music and culture. They constructed their identity and developed an understanding of themselves and others through a self-appropriation of the word “nigger.” This successful (or attempted, depending on your opinion) self-appropriation of the word makes “nigger” transform into the vernacular “nigga.” You can only become the reflexive, communally-accepted “my nigga” if you show some understanding, comprehension, or connection with the post-Civil Rights Movement, post-Crack Era inner-city lived experience of those from the African Disaporic community. If you can’t connect, then you become the general, impersonal “that nigga” or “them niggas.”

Are there more usages than what I just gave above: absolutely. Is there tremendously more complexity in how the word is used than I explained above: absolutely. But do a large number of youth within the Hip-Hop culture use “nigga” within the context I stated above as a reference to their identity: absolutely.

This is why Mary J. Blige can understand why Oprah did not like at first; there is a whole generation of people who are Oprah’s contemporaries and in her cohort who don’t “care” for “niggas” either.

So if one of the most famous and successful Black artists of the past fifteen years sees herself as a “nigga,” there’s a whole generation seeing themselves the same way.

What are the consequences of this? And what are the consequences for what is becoming now a second generation of young people who construct their identity as “niggas?”

In his 1998 book “Yo’ Mama’s DisFUNKtional!: Fighting the Cultural Wars in Urban America” Robin D.G. Kelley takes social scientists and other academics and researchers to task for their singular, archetypal, stereotypical approach to looking at African Americans in urban environment in a chapter he called “Looking for the ‘real’ Nigga.” Hopefully the generation of C. Dolores Tucker’s, Calvin Butts’, and Oprah Winfrey’s who didn’t “care” much about young “niggas” before can rid themselves of the thinking Kelley talks about. And then they and the generation of Mary J. Blige (who grew up thinking of themselves as “niggas”), can come together to see how the poverty, sexism, racism, prison industrial complex, police brutality, and inequality in the American justice system that still plagues people of color in today society is making new “niggas” everyday.

Maybe then people would finally see that Hip-Hop didn’t create these problems. And Hip-Hop is certainly not creating these “niggas.”

Michael Partis

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

When The Empire Strikes Back, We Say YES WE CAN: The Boondocks, Hip-Hop, & Politics As Usual

"Excuse me. I have brief announcement. Jesus was black, Ronald Regan was the devil and the government is lying about 9/11. Thank you for you time and good night." Huey Freeman- "The Boondocks"

“Don’t make sense for Obama to win/if Hilary still getting votes from ya mama and them”
Jadakiss-“Mornings was Hashbrowns” Freestyle

“I’m not sure America is ready for a Black President.” 50 Cent to Bill O’Reily- February 2008

The Boondocks is one of the last television shows in mainstream media that provides a honest, truthful critique of contemporary Black life. As African-Americans are no longer the largest “minority” population, and America continues to promote a “color-blind,” “racism is of the past” rhetoric, often we fail or are afraid to speak truthfully and candidly about race relations in society today. Comedy, parody, and satire have always been an outlet for political and societal critique. Richard Pryor did it; Dick Gregory did it; Dennis Miller did it; Dave Chappelle did it; Bill Maher does it. In their own way, each have pushed taboo or ignored topics into our daily conversation and consciousness.

Aaron McGruder has used The Boondocks cartoon strip and television series & to push us further then we have been pushed in quite sometime. He’s forced us to seriously think about how it would be if Dr. King were alive today; he’s forced us to remember the people from the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina (just in case we forgot about the people in the Superdome); he forces us to rethink who are our “black leaders;” he forces us to rethink hip-hop’s place in our lives; he forces us to rethink ourselves.

But when he forces us to rethink what is BET about… that’s when the trouble starts. It is indicative of the classic struggle: how do we challenge the people in control? And how do we challenge ourselves to be more just, more objective, more thoughtful? The spirit of expression, resistance, and confrontation that is indicative of The Boondocks, is the same spirit we find in the essence of Hip-Hop. The question is does Hip-Hop have the courage to ignore the profits, riches, and fame, to challenge society to be better, and to change?

So when one presidential candidate runs on a slogan that reads “stand for change,” and he has convinced people to buy into, it speaks volumes. As presidential hopeful Barack Obama drives through America’s political landscape on the vehicle of hope, change, and a future which involves all Americans, it seems the Hip-Hop community has taken notice. He’s made Jadakiss mention him in a freestyle, Kidz in the Hall make a Obama campaign song, put together a pro-Barack music video, and brought Tatiana Ali back to our conscious (wasn’t she the last person you expected to see in that music video).

Hip-Hop stars say vote for Barack and P.Diddy gets on his knees to beg us to vote: SO WHAT? Is putting the 2008 Election and politics into the young hip-hop generation’s frame of reference important? YES. But it takes more than yelling “Go vote!!!!!” or telling people who to vote for. We need people to be informed about how delegates work in primaries, why the dollars is losing value everyday, why fixing the Social Security system is important (haven’t heard about that one in a while right?), and what are we going to do to integrate the brothers and sisters who were jailed in droves during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and are now coming home (look around at hoods all over America, they’re home) into today’s society and economy.

(If you have not noticed by now, or have refused to notice up to this point) Hip-Hop music and culture is the point of entry for those trying to reach, cultivate, and work together with the young people of this country (and for that matter, around the world). But all the voices in the movement must be heard: the “backpackers”, the “gangsters”, the “skateboarders”, the “old-heads”, the “hip-hop historians and scholars.” All have a part in the narrative. All must push each other address to be open, honest, and candid.

When Bill O’Reilly can sit in 50 Cent’s car, interview him, then come on the air and call him a “pinhead,” we know there’s a problem. When there are people in Haiti forced to eat mud pies for subsistence, we know there’s a problem. When there are people who won’t vote for a Black man to become president because they are afraid he would be assassinated (contrary to your first reaction, 50 Cent is NOT the only person who thinks this… talk to any American 50 years old or older who can remember JFK, RFK, or MLK). And when we can not challenge the number one mainstream hip-hop and Black entertainment outlet on television, we know there is a problem. We must use our minds, our hearts, and our voices to strike back.

Michael Partis

The Problems:

Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt (I wasn't playing...)

Barack's Speech the night of the New Hampshire Primary (you saw the music video, listen to the speech)

The Root

About Us
The Root is a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives. The site also hosts an interactive genealogical section to trace one's ancestry through, a DNA testing site co-founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is also The Root's Editor-In-Chief. The Root aims to be an unprecedented departure from traditional American journalism, raising the profile of black voices in mainstream media and engaging anyone interested in black culture around the world.

"Girl Like Me"

Color is more than skin deep for young African-American women struggling to define themselves.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fordham University's College Shadowing Program

Private universities, with a majority White student body, don't often visit communities of lower-income students of color---period.

Fordham University's College Shadowing Program allowed high school students to visit the university, and be assigned to a Fordham student. Thus the high school students follows the college student for a week and gets personal insight on college life.

Check out this article on it. Peace